Cassava in the Summit spotlight

CASSAVA in a traditional Trini oil down will be one of the dishes served at the main banquet for leaders and delegates at the Fifth Summit of the Americas which will be taking place in Port-of-Spain from Friday.

For those who might not be familiar with this root vegetable, we decided to highlight cassava, as well as some of the tasty dishes in which it is the main ingredient.

Grown as a shrub in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and South America, cassava is harvested for its root and leaves. High in starch, it is a plant that contains low levels of protein in the root and high levels in the green leaves. This plant is a key crop in many areas where other crops cannot grow as easily, making it valued as a food and a crop to market to local food markets, or ethnic food markets worldwide as a fresh or frozen vegetable.

Depending on the variety grown, this root can be bitter or sweet in flavour and should always be washed, peeled and cooked to remove poisonous substances contained in the root that can attack enzymes within human digestive systems, causing discomfort, illness, and possibly death. If not processed properly (it should be dried, soaked in a water solution, thoroughly washed, and cooked) a poisonous cyanide toxin that causes harm to human digestive systems cannot be effectively removed from the crop. However, since the varieties vary and since this tuber may cause different levels of distress if consumed raw, it is always best to be safe and cook the vegetable before eating.

As a food high in carbohydrates, containing almost 140 calories in an average sized tuber, this vegetable is often prepared and served much like a potato as a side dish or added as an ingredient in soups and stews. The texture is very absorbent, so the flesh of the root takes on the flavour of any other ingredients combined with it when baked, boiled, fried, or sauteed. The root contains significantly more fiber content and only slightly more potassium than a potato.

In addition to the root, the plant leaves are also consumed as they are cooked and served as a vegetable green. When harvested, the root has a rough brown outer skin that covers a white crisp textured flesh. As a fresh root, it will often be coated with editable wax in an attempt to store it for longer periods of time. After being harvested, it will not last long. Fresh roots can be stored in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days, but store slightly longer (3 to 4 days) when kept out of the refrigerator in a cool dry area. The flesh freezes well and can be kept for several months frozen if peeled, cut into chunks and wrapped in an airtight wrapping.

Commonly used to make tapioca, tapioca flour, Cassava flour, pancakes, bammy bread, cassava flat bread, and snack chips, this root may also be referred to as Yuca Root, Manioc, Manihot, Mandioca, and Eddoes. At times, it is mistakenly referred to as Yucca, which is a non-edible plant from the Agave plant family.

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